Freed from heroin’s grip

An addict. Photo: Mujahid Safodien/AFP/Getty Images

Raised tough in the Kawangware slums of Nairobi, former gangster Gentry says that, without work, many like himself made the self-destructive choice to try marijuana (weed), which led on to heroin.

"In the ghetto of the rusted corrugated iron avenues, there is very little work, especially for youth," says Gentry.

As addicts developed a thirst for expensive heroin, Gentry says that this fueled a life of violent crime and frequently mugging people.

In the area nicknamed "Sodom", Gentry was once an intimidating gang leader due to his six-foot-four strong stature.

The police response to violent robberies was often deadly, and Gentry remembers being near death many times. "One night a close friend was shot and died; another died later in hospital. I was the only survivor."

This terrible crime problem was made worse by corrupt officials who could be bribed, so the community often resorted to 'mob justice'.

A second narrow escape from death at the hands of revengeful residents motivated Gentry to change his life.

"I was once rescued by a friend's pleadings from an angry mob that was armed with machetes, guns and iron bars. It was obvious I was to be killed. After mugging a young woman and beating her up, I almost expected it.

"My friend pleaded with the crowd for mercy and it was given. Again I had seemingly miraculously evaded death. These ever increasing near misses made me start to contemplate my wasted life. I started to desire a life off heroin."

Gentry's desire for a new life was met by a preacher who visited the ghetto with a message of freedom from all addictions through God's help.

"I had never considered God before, as He did not exist to me," Gentry says. "But this man of small stature had a big voice that spoke to me personally."

After listening to the man's message for weeks, Gentry felt hope for the first time in the man's offer that if people came to the weekly meetings for Bible-based counseling they would enter a drug rehab program.

"I was resistant at first, but this message gave me hope, something I never had.

"Each week I would go, often be given some food and then hear about the forgiveness and freedom that Jesus Christ offered. A month later, I prayed to receive Jesus as my Savior and King of my life."

Gentry heard later from his mother that after this prayer she stopped having nightmares of him lying dead in a street gutter.

"My addictions reduced, however I would backslide and end up taking drugs again. Yet I kept coming to the sessions," Gentry says honestly.

Six months later he entered the four-month rehab program at Harvest of Hope in Kenya, where he was finally released from drugs.

"The first month was difficult, but it was as if God reduced the cravings. By the second month I experienced real freedom and peace like I had never felt before.

Gentry says he saw "a living God" at work in his life and he reconciled many broken relationships.

"I came to know Jesus through the Bible, prayer, and from sermons at the center. I gained many mature Christian friends, some former addicts, and all offered me loving support.

"Within a year I read the whole Bible and learned to pray and help others. I was less fearful in my heart and no longer needed to intimidate others."

Since finishing the program three years ago Gentry has stayed on as a volunteer.

"I literally have been given a hundred new friends, brothers in Jesus Christ who share God's Word and help people in need," he says with a large smile.

"I have used the old networks to encourage other 'gangsters' to join the program. One by one they saw that I had a new inner peace about me."

Gentry is now happily married with a baby boy, and gladly concludes: "If God could so change me, I believe He can change anyone!"

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